The Gazette Editorial Board
Shortly after the 2013 Iowa Legislature convened amid much talk and hope for meaningful education reform, we wrote that reform should not unduly delay legislators’ decision on funding for ongoing school operations. Well, our fears have been realized.
Two months into the session and well past what state law says is the deadline to make such a decision, there’s no decision on “allowable growth” — i.e., whether to increase, and by how much, the per-pupil formula that is largely funded by the state. By law, it’s supposed to be made within 30 days after the Legislature convenes and it’s supposed to be for the fiscal year 18 months out.
And because legislators also didn’t make a decision last year, schools still don’t know what allowable growth and state aid they may or may not be working with come the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Meanwhile, school districts are supposed to certify their budgets by April 15. Collective bargaining agreements must be negotiated, and staffing and program decisions are due. But because legislators can’t come to agreement, school planners don’t know what to expect.
Digging deeper into reserves, layoffs and/or increasing local property taxes again are the fallback options. Fixed operating costs can and do increase despite cutting expenses elsewhere.
This is no way to run a budget. The state is making life unnecessarily painful for local school districts.
It’s high time for legislators to get their act together. Metro area school board presidents are urging a prompt decision that includes 4 percent growth (see adjacent guest column). While we’re not sure that figure is the right one, after three lean years of state aid, a significant increase is due.
Most important, this decision must no longer be held hostage by political differences or the governor’s preference to do reform first.
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